I consider myself a walking miracle and a classic example of modern medicine at it’s best. The treatment I received gave me my life back.
In November 2014, then 53-year-old Eric Polans was rushed to the emergency department of his local New Jersey hospital, with breathing problems. At the hospital, after five days of running tests, they believed he had two leaky heart valves.
But there was a problem.
The doctors felt his symptoms were not typical for leaky heart valves, so they were not sure what was causing his symptoms. Based on the hospital testing, Eric’s condition confounded his primary care doctor, who referred him to a cardiologist. But after four months, the cardiologist had yet to devise an effective treatment plan.
“The doctor was treating me for leaky heart valves and was considered having valve replacement surgery on me,” Eric recalls. “He decided to run one more test — an MRI of my heart. In that MRI they found the amyloid protein.”
Amyloid is an abnormal protein deposit found in organs and tissues. Produced in the bone marrow, when amyloid builds up in the body, it can cause a condition called amyloidosis. This is considered a rare disease — with approximately 2,225 new cases each year in the United States — however, it's likely underdiagnosed.
In Eric’s case, the amyloid protein deposited in his heart was causing cardiac amyloidosis. With cardiac amyloidosis, the heart stiffens as the deposits increase. Eventually, the pumping function deteriorates.
“My cardiologist in New Jersey told me I had amyloidosis, but he couldn’t tell me where to go to be treated. No one we knew ever heard of the disease. No doctor we asked seemed to have heard of amyloidosis,” he says.
So Eric and his wife took to the internet and found Dr. Mathew Maurer, a cardiologist specializing in amyloidosis at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. The Multidisciplinary Amyloidosis Program at NewYork-Presbyterian is recognized as a national and international referral center for amyloidosis.
“I contacted Dr. Maurer’s office. They had me fax over my medical records. A few days later, I was told to come to the hospital for in-patient testing,” Eric remembers.
Because of the complexity of the condition, Eric needed a team of doctors from differing specialty areas to work together to develop an effective treatment plan. Dr. Maurer introduced Eric to Dr. Suzanne Lentzsch, a hematologist who is the director of the Multiple Myeloma and Amyloidosis Program at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia. Dr. Lentzsch prescribed a 16-week course of chemotherapy to destroy the abnormal plasma cells that produced the amyloid in his heart.
After 10 weeks of treatment, Eric wasn’t responding as expected to the chemotherapy. Dr. Lentzsch and Dr. Maurer decided to bring in Dr. Markus Mapara, a hematologist specializing in blood and bone marrow stem cell transplantation.
“Since the chemo wasn’t working they felt I should skip the balance of the 16-week regimen and go right to having a stem cell transplant, which went well. But my heart was more damaged than anyone anticipated,” Eric says.
For the next five months, Eric was hospitalized several times for heart failure. In February 2016, Dr. Maurer told Eric he would need a heart transplant to survive. However, it would be a battle to be placed on the transplant list as his amyloidosis was not in remission yet. Dr. Lentzsch and Dr. Maurer both appeared before the transplant committee to advocate for Eric. After much discussion, he was approved to be placed on the list.
On hearing about being placed on the transplant waiting list, Eric recalls saying to Dr. Maurer, “‘I guess now we play the waiting game,’ because I knew some people would wait two or three months for an organ. But he said to me, ‘you don’t have two months left.’”
After only three days on the transplant list, Dr. Hiroo Takayama, a cardiothoracic surgeon at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia, performed a heart transplant. After a few weeks of rehabilitation at the hospital, Eric was sent home.
Several months after the surgery, Eric began another chemotherapy regimen, which has been successful in combating the disease. Since February 2017, he has been in remission. Eric will continue with maintenance chemotherapy until August 2018. He has also transitioned care from Dr. Maurer to Dr. Farhana Latif, a transplant cardiologist.
Eric, a father of three adult children, says he’s immensely grateful and lucky to have found doctors that were so dedicated.
“When we were looking for somewhere to get treated, we didn’t know if NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia was right or if Dr. Maurer was the right one to see. But I was fortunate to have picked Dr. Maurer and NYP because it’s one of the best places in the world to be treated for amyloidosis,” he says. “I consider myself a walking miracle and a classic example of modern medicine at its best. The treatment I received gave me my life back.”